As tribute albums go, the upcoming Divided & United collection is a remarkable testament to American history, acoustic music and the human condition. Although these 32 songs were prevalent 150 years ago, the deep emotions and the fervor for God and country still ring true.
Ricky Skaggs’ subdued rendition of “Two Soldiers” is one of the highlights of the double-disc collection, arriving Nov. 5. During a visit to CMT, Skaggs explained how he chose to record the song, which was a once-forgotten folk tune of the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Skaggs said he learned “Two Soldiers” from a recording by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, although Bob Dylan has also recorded a version of it. After finding the lyrics online, Skaggs went into the studio and played the whole thing himself.
“I love the story. You know, the story of this young man wanting to go home and see his mom,” Skaggs says. “He gets in this battle and he gets shot and wounded. And as many typical Civil War songs are — ‘Would you write to my mom tenderly and tell her I love her?’ Just knowing that really took place in our nation. … All of those old songs grab your heart and have left such a blot on our nation’s history.”
Although Skaggs admired the guitar-mandolin arrangement by Garcia and Grisman, he says he put a “stanky ol’ banjo thing” on the track and used a couple of special guitars, including one that dates from the 1800s.
“Actually, I used a Martin guitar that is a pre-Civil War Martin. Christian Martin made this thing,” he says. “I found it in Austin, Texas, from a guy that collects and deals in really old parlor guitars. This is a little, short Martin guitar but probably one of the biggest sizes they made back then. Christian Martin would have had his hands on this guitar. It was made in New York, but this was before they started putting ‘C. F. Martin, Made in New York’ on them. …
“And it sounds so incredible, so I used it on this track. What an appropriate guitar to play on this thing. Just the fact that it has survived all these years — somewhere between 1855 and 1865 is when they feel this guitar was made. It’s a great song, and I was really honored to get to be a part of that record.”
Be the first to hear Ricky Skaggs’ “Two Soldiers” from Divided & United.